On YouTube, Paul Joseph Watson spends his time ranting in front of a map of the world for his 1.2 million followers. Carl Benjamin poses as an ancient Mesopotamian leader. And Mark Meechan, who goes by the handle Count Dankula, is enjoying a new level of online fame after being fined £800 for teaching his pug to do a Hitler salute.
Together, they want to be the new face of Britain’s struggling U.K. Independence Party.
Joined by former Breitbart writer Milo Yiannopoulos, the British YouTube personalities are attempting to flood the right-wing party’s membership roles with supporters in what Watson describes as a “soft coup.”
UKIP and its founder, Nigel Farage, reached the height of their influence in 2016, when they spearheaded the winning “yes” side of Britain’s Brexit vote to leave the European Union.
Since then, though, with Farage resigning and Brexit bogged down in negotiations, UKIP has been slowed by a leadership scandal over racist remarks about Meghan Markle and an attempted takeover by a hard-line anti-Muslim candidate. UKIP supporters now make up less than 3 percent of the British electorate, according to one recent poll.
Enter the YouTube crew, who see an opportunity to use the party to “Make Britain Great Again”—or at least to use UKIP’s turmoil to build their own social-media followings.
Meechan first toyed with the idea of joining UKIP this month, writing on Twitter that he would join the party if one of his tweets received 10,000 retweets.
“I’m not joking,” insisted Meechan, whose ear-lobe plugs and multiple facial piercings would make him stand out from UKIP’s usual suit-and-tie politicians. “This is not a meme.”
Meechan’s tweet ultimately received slightly more than 10,000 retweets. On June 16, Meechan published a video announcing that he was joining the moribund party “as a free-speech warrior” who could bring in younger voters. Meechan declined to comment to The Daily Beast, saying he would only answer questions if they could be livestreamed on his YouTube channel.
Benjamin, a self-described “classical liberal” who’s gained internet fame for his attacks on liberals and feminists under the handle “Sargon of Akkad,” joined in, saying he was joining UKIP as a “Trumpian protest fuck you to everyone.” And Watson, an employee of Alex Jones’ conspiracy website Infowars, claimed that joining UKIP is “the new counter-culture.”
“Take over UKIP for the banter?” Watson tweeted. “How hard can it be?”
UKIP has struggled in the past to keep far-right figures out of the party, responding with a ban on members of the English Defense League, a group of street protesters who oppose “Islamization.” But UKIP leader Gerard Batten called Islam a “death cult” earlier this year, marking a further drift rightward.
Batten and UKIP didn’t respond to a request for comment on the YouTubers’ membership drive.
On Saturday, UKIP’s three newest members were joined by Yiannopoulos, the British provocateur and former Breitbart writer.
Yiannopoulos has seen his career go into a precipitous decline over the past 18 months, losing his job at Breitbart and his patrons in the pro-Trump billionaire Mercer family and facing financial struggles at his own website. But Yiannopoulos can still afford the £30 fee to join UKIP, posting a screenshot of his receipt on Instagram.
Asked about his decision to join the party, Yiannopoulos wrote in an email that he “can’t wait for the vigilante squads to start gunning journalists down on sight!”